CHAPTER 2: 1890-ROOT’S LAST YEAR

2.1. GIVE THE LADIES WHAT THEY WANT: THE WOMAN’S TEMPLE v.2.0

Burnham & Root, W.C.T.U. Woman’s Temple, Chicago, SW corner of La Salle and Monroe, 1890. Note the secondary entrance on Monroe that led to Willard Hall. (preservationchicago.org)

Fortunately for a variety of reasons, Marshall Field had finally decided in July 1888 to rid himself of the albatross of his hole-in-the-ground at the southwest corner of La Salle and Monroe, an excavated basement that had scarred the southern length of La Salle for three years since May 1885, when his former partner, Levi Leiter had sprung his vengeful legal trap that stopped construction on Field’s planned thirteen-story skyscraper designed by S.S. Beman (see v.3, sec. 8.19).  More than likely, Field needed more capital to help pay for his new Wholesale Store by Richardson and offered the site at an annual lease of $40,000 to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, far less than what the Building Association, that included Burnham & Root’s clients and friends William E. Hale (Kansas City’s Midland Hotel and the Reliance Building) and Norman B. Ream (Rookery, Midland Hotel, and the Chicago Hotel) had planned to pay Eugene Pike for the northeast corner of Dearborn and Jackson.  

Field’s offer had saved Burnham & Root, who had already designed the building (v.4, sec.5.4) from a major embarrassment because this first design was, simply not up to Root’s standards.  I had posed the question if this was a result of a mid-life burnout?

Burnham & Root, W.C.T.U. Woman’s Temple, Chicago, NE corner of Dearborn and Jackson, 1888.. (Inland Architect, Dec. 1888)

Fortunately, Field’s offer had given Root a second chance and by then he had returned to his old self, enjoying the challenge of the design of more buildings. (The move of the project also opened up the site on Dearborn for Burnham & Root to design the Chicago Hotel.)

I have used the previous chapter to summarize the “architectural climate” in New York from the second half of 1888 through 1890, a period that paralleled the battle between New York and Chicago for the honor of hosting the 1892/3 World’s Fair.  I did this purposefully to help us all understand what Root was looking at when he visited New York during the summer and fall of 1889 during the final negotiations running up to the 1889 Consolidation Convention of the A.I.A. and the W.A.A. This had culminated in the consolidation on November 21, 1889, and saw Root’s election as the Secretary of the new organization, second in responsibility only to the President, Richard Morris Hunt. He, therefore, was obligated to continue travelling to New York on a regular basis during the final heated months of the contest for the Fair that led up to the final decision in favor of Chicago on February 24, 1890.

I introduced the question of why did Root start putting roofs, highly-pitched hipped and gabled, on the top of his skyscrapers in 1890?  He had often incorporated such forms in lower buildings, such his 1885 submission for the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and a design in 1888 for the Boatmen’s Saving Bank in St. Louis, but in 1890 his skyscrapers began to sport such forms. Was it simply coincidence that he did this after Post had done so immediately before?  Or was Root seriously concerned about the visual result from taking what amounted to an extruded floor plan to such unprecedented heights without attempting to give expression to the building’s terminus at the sky?  Or had the time that both Burnham and Root spent in New York with their new A.I.A. acquaintances, especially President Hunt, encouraged Root to gain their professional approval by adding these “historical” references into their taller buildings?  Or was it Root’s longtime commitment of expressing a building’s “spirit” that resulted in these new forms?  While one might argue this point for the first two projects (the W.C.T.U. and Masonic “Temples”) that were actually built, there is no apparent “spirit” in the program of either the San Francisco design or the unidentified project that could have been manifested with the addition of these high roofs, is there?  My best guess for these next two buildings that I am going to analyze, it was a combination of how to impart an “appropriate spirit” to them, and his innate competitiveness to do better than what Hunt and Post were designing back East.

For the redesign of the Woman’s Temple, Burnham & Root settled on an H-plan, similar in concept to the Rialto and the Kansas City Board of Trade, by placing double-loaded corridors on the north and south edges of the site.  These were linked with a single-loaded corridor that was recessed 30’ from La Salle Street that created an exterior lightcourt. The resulting central void of the lightcourt marked the axial, two-story arched entry.  This broke the long, La Salle Street elevation into two corner pavilions whose presence was reinforced with the application of a nine-story, 20’ diameter cylindrical bay window on each of the four corners, once again turning the corner without a sharp angle, alluding to the continuous surface of the exterior enclosure (à la Monadnack and the Chicago Hotel).   

Burnham & Root, W.C.T.U. Woman’s Temple. Typical Lower Floors Plan. (Online)
Burnham & Root, W.C.T.U. Woman’s Temple. (Hoffmann, Meanings)

In its masonry bearing wall construction, the Woman’s Temple echoed the widely-spaced piered system used in the Monadnock. In its elevational design, it can be viewed as the twin sister of the Chicago Hotel (George Fuller was the contractor for all three), that was topped with a three-story, steeply-pitched, French châteauesque hat, including a hatpin that was a “70’ tall fleché of gilded bronze, surmounted by the beautiful form of a woman, with face upturned and hands outstretched to heaven in prayer… as she protests against laws and customs of the nation… and appeals unto God for help to save her home, children, and land from (liquor’s) destroying power.” (Judging by the appearance of the fleché, Root may have been inspired by the spire of Mont Saint-Michel, but can there be any doubt that its true reason for being was a parry to Stanford White’s Diana planned to cap the tower of Madison Square Garden?)  

Burnham & Root, W.C.T.U. Woman’s Temple with Fleché. 1890. (chicagocollections.org)

Root detailed a two-story base of rough-hewn pinkish brown granite that supported an 8-story body sheathed with a cinnamon-colored brick set in brown mortar.  It was this portion of the building that Root detailed in a similar manner as he had the Chicago Hotel.  The brick surface was treated as a smooth surface into which he again carved the squareheaded windows.  The bay windows were direct copies of the hotel’s. 

In the Temple’s elevation, the sillcourse at the fifth floor this time actually did break the brick body into a lower two-story layer and an upper five-story layer (as opposed to the applied superfluous sillcourse in the Hotel).  The lower layer was reinforced by Root’s changing the window pattern in this area of the bay windows.  Again, echoing the Chicago hotel’s elevation, the wall surface, where it was not covered by a bay window, was detailed as a multistoried arch with paired windows, except in the floor under the arch that was infilled with a triple window.  Above the arcade created by the bay windows he detailed a continuous sillcourse, under which he accented the surfaces between the arch and the sillcourse with an ornate, foliated terra cotta pattern. Here Root “let out all the stops” with the number of brick details he employed: was this a result of Brooks’ prohibition of any ornament on the Monadnock, i.e., “see folks, I really can design ornament.” Of course, this shows that the unornamented Monadnock was an anomaly in Root’s oeuvre, and not a change in Root’s design theory.

In the tenth story, that was the uppermost layer of the continuous surface of brick, Root carved a continuous row of arched windows that appears completely extraneous to the entire composition.  The windows were not spaced close enough to create the “void” layer that he had successfully used to top off the Hotel.  This story was then capped with a dentil-molding cornice, again like that he had also used in the Hotel.

Below: Burnham & Root, W.C.T.U. Woman’s Temple. Roof plan. (sophia.smith.edu)

He then made another, and more successful, void layer in the eleventh story row of windows to set off the building’s “hat.”  On top of this void he placed the three-story roof that overhung this line of windows with a heavy eave, except where Root had extended the wall plane through the eave to form a two-story gabled dormer, à la  Richardson.  In fact, this tinted postcard image (left) shows the gables to have been sheathed in granite, giving it an uncanny resemblance to Richardson’s winning design of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. This intersection resulted in an intriguing interplay of horizontal and vertical that Root accentuated by placing corner piers on each dormer that seemed to pick up and continue the horizontal edge of the eaves.  

The tall, pitched roof was then ornamented with a line of closely-spaced single-story dormers at the top floor. (Compare these to Post’s dormers in the New York Cotton Exchange above.) The piece d’resistance of the roof silhouette were the four conical roofs that topped each of the bay windows that would have set-up the vertical launch of the fleché.  Truly, Root had expressed the purpose of this building in its design (that is, women helping other women) by his French Romanesque interpretation of the shape and scale of an 1890 lady’s hat.  Unfortunately, the metaphor remained somewhat incomplete when it was decided following Root’s death not to build the “hatpin” fleché.  . 

Burnham & Root, W.C.T.U. Woman’s Temple. (Hoffmann, Meanings)

FURTHER READING:

Hoffmann, Donald. The Architecture of John Wellborn Root. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

Hoffmann, Donald. The Meanings of Architecture: Buildings and Writings by John Wellborn Root.  New York: Horizon, 1967.

Monroe, Harriet. John Wellborn Root; A Study of His Life and Work. Park Forest: Prairie School Press, 1966.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s